Sometimes when you read, it will lead you to places you never thought you would go.
Nancy Whitworth knew her role as a United Way of Greater Kansas City Women’s Leadership Council volunteer at reStart: She would read to the children living at the homeless shelter.
Nancy walked into reStart on a recent afternoon hoping to share the joy of reading. She left changing a life.
* * *
Nancy, Director of Human Resources and Development at McCownGordon Construction, has been a member of the Women’s Leadership Council for more than three years. Because she’s so involved – volunteering to serve on the council’s Advisory Committee – Nancy has a clear understanding on why council members would choose reading to children at the reStart Quality Matters site as an activity. After all, education is the focus of the Women’s Leadership Council.
Shortly after arriving at reStart that spring afternoon, Nancy plopped herself down on the floor and gathered the attention of a small group of children ranging in age from 5 to 8 years.
She opened a book by one of her favorites authors – Dr. Seuss – and read. When Nancy finished, her band of little listeners eagerly scooted off to seek out another volunteer reader.
Nancy looked around the room and noticed a young man who was reading a different Dr. Seuss book. Only three adults were listening to the young man.
Nancy was about to make things change.
* * *
Anthony Cerda is 18 and homeless. He dropped out of high school the middle of his senior year and has been living at reStart’s Youth Emergency Center ever since walking from Joplin about a month or so ago. Anthony is focusing now on building a new life in Kansas City that will begin with getting a high school degree and a job.
One afternoon, the teens living in the center were encouraged to come to a reading session. It wasn’t such a difficult sale on Anthony because he loves books.
“My mom read me books,” he says. His favorite as a child was “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”
Nowadays, poetry is what Anthony mostly enjoys reading.
“It shows feelings to me,” he explains. “You can feel what they are feeling.”
On that particular afternoon, Anthony wanted to do something more than sit amid the Women’s Leadership Council volunteers and the younger kids from the shelter.
“I had the urge to read to someone,” he says.
So he picked up a Dr. Seuss book and began to read to the adults sitting nearby.
“You do that really well. You would make a great teacher,” Anthony heard someone say. It was, Anthony noticed, a woman who had come over to hear him read.
Anthony shrugged his shoulders. He shook his head.
Anthony dismisses the idea. He wants to pursue something tied to his love of and talent in drawing – maybe a tattoo artist.
He kept reading.
“Then he got this little light in his eye,” Nancy recalls, “like he was intrigued by the idea that he could be a teacher.”
“Maybe, yeah, maybe, I could be a teacher,” Anthony first thinks and then shares with the small group.
* * *
Days later, Anthony sits at a dining table in the Youth Emergency Shelter retelling that day when someone mentioned a job he had never really considered.
“It was a good feeling that maybe I could do this…be a teacher,” Anthony says.
Then he is given a direct question: Are you really now thinking that you might want to be a teacher someday?
Anthony – who has been spending most of the conversation looking down at the dining table – raises his head.
His slight smile brings something different, something hopeful to his eyes.
With a direct look brimming with affirmation, Anthony answers.